A chest infection is a bacterial or viral infection of the airways or lungs. The two main types of chest infection are acute bronchitis, which is the more common and less serious type of infection and pneumonia. Chest infections can range from being relatively mild to severe and life threatening. Acute bronchitis is the most common type of chest infection, affecting around 4.5% of the UK population each year. The condition is most common during autumn and winter. Pneumonia is less common, affecting just over 1% of people each year in the UK.
Pneumonia is a serious illness that is responsible for almost 10% of all chest infections in the UK. In the modern antibiotic-era pneumonia can still be fatal, even in previously healthy individuals. However, to put this in context, there are around 1.5 million episodes of chest infections in the community each year in England and Wales, of which only around 5–10% are pneumonia. Around 3,000 of these cases will prove fatal but more than 80% will succumb to “bronchopneumonia”, commonly a terminal event in people with serious underlying medical conditions. Overall men are affected twice as often as women.
Differentiating Wintry Ailments
The beginning of each winter sees an increase in the number of respiratory ailments, a spectrum that ranges from the common cold through to severe pneumonia. Despite the media attention over the last two winters due to the swine flu pandemics, most respiratory ailments are mild and self-limiting. However, it is important to recognise when you should seek further medical assessment and treatment.